The AP reports that Egypt’s transitional military government has lifted a travel ban against seven of the 16 Americans currently being tried for their work with organizations that allegedly took illegal foreign contributions — work that incited protests against the military rulers, the government alleges. The report takes this development (which includes the release of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s son) as a signal that the crisis is being resolved. The 16 Americans are among 43 “civil society activists” being tried. Though the trial started Sunday, it was promptly adjourned for two months (until April 26). In the meantime, the American defendants have not been required to attend the trial and, more significantly, the three judges resigned from the case, citing “uneasiness.” The country’s top prosecutor is said to have lifted the travel ban at the recommendation of the case’s investigating magistrate.
That all sounds great, and hopefully it really is the end of the story — or at least the beginning of the end. But there is a disturbing possibility that the AP story does not mention.
The widely read Arabic newspaper al-Arabiya reported yesterday that the Obama administration has offered a prisoner-swap in exchange for the release of the Americans — an exchange that would have the U.S. releasing the “Blind Sheikh”, Omar Abdel Rahman, in addition to 49 other Egyptian inmates held in American prisons. I was the lead prosecutor on Abdel Rahman’s terrorism trial in 1995, when he was convicted of masterminding a terrorist war against the United States that included the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and a plot to bomb New York City landmarks. The al-Arabiya story has not made it to the paper’s English language site, but word of it first appeared late last night at Jihad Watch, and a translation of the story is now posted on the “Translating Jihad” site.
I’ll have more to say about the Blind Sheikh story soon. Is it true, and is it a quid pro quo for Egypt’s apparently imminent release of the detained Americans? I certainly hope not . . . but I don’t know.